Defense and determination.
From the opening tip Friday, the United Township Panthers played with a fervor befitting of a team playing for a Western Big Six title before a packed Panther Den.
In reality, UT was playing before a small but boisterous crowd at home for its first conference win. But it got the job done, defeating Alleman 45-37. The win moves UT (9-10, 1-5) out of last place in the conference for the first time since the beginning of the conference season. Alleman (10-10, 1-6) is now in last place.
“I think our group is hungry right now,” said Panther coach Ryan Webber. “We had a good week of practice. I just thought every guy was together on the court, and we were just real fiery and competitive. It was fun to watch.”
And apparently fun to play, based on the smile on Shamar Grant’s face after scoring 15 points, despite missing his first five field goals.
“We have been working hard in practice,” Grant said. “We wanted a Western Big Six win. Coach Webber just told us to stay humble and stay hungry. So we knew we had to get this win for us and the program.”
The statistic that told it all was rebounding. UT grabbed 35 to Alleman’s 27. And it was a stat not at all lost on Alleman coach Kyle Murray.
“I really feel like rebounding for us is effort,” he said. “ And I didn’t feel like the effort was there. Then it translated at bad times in the game when we needed to make the extra pass and expend a little more energy and we didn’t.”
Alleman failed to get a player in double figures, though seniors Andrew Barrett and Saurabh Patwal each finished with nine. But they needed 18 shots to do it, with Patwal making 3 of 8 from the 3-point line, all in the third quarter.
After closing to within three points (34-31) after three quarters, the Pioneers did not score a point until 1:56 remained and Barrett made two free throws. By then, the Panthers, who only trailed briefly in the first quarter, had a 40-33 edge and were in control.
Alleman only had 11 turnovers, but several were ill-timed.
“There was a period there to start the fourth, we are down three and get a good shot at the top of the key and we don’t make it," Murray said. "But then it leads to a basket. Then it crept up to seven or eight.”
Indeed the Panthers opened the fourth with a 6-0 run for a nine-point lead.
“The way UT was moving the ball on offense, seven or eight points is several possessions with the pace of that game,” he said.
Being in last place didn’t bother Murray as much as the effort he got Friday night.
“I guess I am just more concerned that I didn’t feel like we put forth the effort to win in the Western Big Six," he said. "Or frankly to win in general. We got what we deserved tonight.”
UT had to feel it got what it deserved, too. The Panthers got 11 points from Delaney Little and nine points from Jean Luc Wilson, who also had 11 rebounds. Grant had five boards himself and Daveon Ellis, a 6-foot-6 junior, added seven, along with five points.
“We rebounded the ball, and it came from a lot of guys,” Webber said.
“I told them how much I enjoyed just watching them compete,” he added. “That was just the term we used with them. Defensively, I just thought we were everywhere and tried to make things hard with them.”